DNA Pioneer James Watson Quits Post Amid ControversyBy Iquo B. Essien, The AFRican Blogger

DNA Pioneer James Watson Quits Post Amid Controversy
By Iquo B. Essien, The AFRican Blogger

Published on Thu, Oct 25 2007 by Iquo Essien

Scientists James Watson (L) and Francis Crick (R) in 1953, the year of their monumental discovery of DNA. Photo credit: UPI/Bettman

Have you guys been following this story? DNA co-discover James Watson (who, with Francis Crick, deciphered the structure of the DNA molecule) said he will resign as Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory following public outcry over his controversial remarks made about the intelligence levels of blacks.

In 2000, he left an audience reeling by suggesting a link between skin color and sex drive, hypothesizing that dark-skinned people have stronger libido. American scientists accused Watson, who won the Nobel Prize in 1962, of "trading on past successes to promote opinions that have little scientific basis," while British ones countered that politically incorrect topics shouldn't be off limits to science. His latest comments to the Sunday Times might be the most controversial yet (my mouth is still hanging open). Take a look:

[Watson] says he is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours whereas all the testing says not really," and I know that this "hot potato" is going to be difficult to address.

His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true." He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don't promote them when they haven't succeeded at the lower level."

He writes that "there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

When asked how long it might take for the key genes in affecting differences in human intelligence to be found, his "back-of-the-envelope-answer" is 15 years. However, he wonders if even 10 years will pass.

In his mission to make children more DNA-literate, the geneticist explains that he has opened a DNA learning centre on the borders of Harlem in New York. He is also recruiting minorities at the lab, "but," he says, having only managed to recruit one black girl so far, "there's no one to recruit."

Though he later apologized, Cold Spring suspended Watson's administrative duties after the remarks were published. In a statement released today, he said:

This morning I have conveyed to the Trustees of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory my desire to retire immediately from my position as its Chancellor, as well as from my position on its Board, on which I have served for the past 43 years. Closer now to 80 than 79, the passing on of my remaining vestiges of leadership is more than overdue. The circumstances in which this transfer is occurring, however, are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired.

This week's events focus me ever more intensely on the moral values passed on to me. To my great advantage, [my parents] lives were guided by a faith in reason; an honest application of its messages; and for social justice, especially the need for those on top to help care for the less fortunate. As an educator, I have always striven to see that the fruits of the American Dream are available to all.

I have been much blessed.

James D. Watson

I don't even know where to begin with all of this. Yes, it's true that Watson is a rabid sexist who once advocated for aborting homosexual babies. That being said, arguments about the scientific basis of black, and specifically AFRican, intellectual inferiority often find a rapt audience among the most educated elites. In this year 2007, I actually have to sit here and sift through articles considering the truth in the claim that black people are less intelligent than whites (by Nigel Hawkes, Health Editor of The Times).

And it's not funny.

It's not funny that I went to Stanford in 1999, top of my high school class, with so many Advanced Placement credits I didn't have to take a single language, math, or science class if I didn't want to, yet still had professors looking at me like I was some kind of affirmative action mistake. And you know what? It's even less funny that these beliefs have an impact on my paycheck, career advancement, even my ability to effect change on a larger scale in the world.

I almost said to myself that we shouldn't hang a scientist for his personal beliefs, since science really isn't a social discipline. But then it dawned on me that FOR SO LONG, and even today, science has been used as a tool for social stratification. We might as well call it a social discipline when research funding is motivated by these same racist, sexist, and classist ideas. Folk like James Watson -- who use their positions to espouse erroneous social/cultural/political beliefs -- should be held accountable. Every time he opens his mouth he sets the clock back generations.

And it pisses me off that the world is more likely to listen to him, though his comments are scientifically baseless and untrue, than to me when I'm making a whole lot more sense. While some geneticists are out there working to find a cure to AIDS in the next fifteen years, Watson thinks we should be looking for evidence of blacks' intellectual inferiority.

It amounts to professional negligence, and I'm glad he's gone.

Peace,

The AFRican Blogger


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